Mama Madison: Year-end rituals

Saying good-bye to school

By the time this is posted there will be no more than 24 hours left of school. All three of my kids can tell you, down to the nanosecond, exactly how much longer they have to go. I'm just waiting for one of them to launch into an off-key, Glee-esque version of that song from Rent --"Less than one thousand four hundred forty three minutes. Less than one thousand four hundred minutes....Until I'm in the next grade!"

Yes, we all feel like we're in the final lap of the end-of-the-school-year marathon. And I am not sure we properly trained.

First there was the perpetual parade of potlucks. Just attempting, night after night, to come up with a healthy and creative "dish to pass"--as opposed to one to "pass over"--nearly did me in. As hard as I try, I will never be one of those people able to whip up an exotic salad in a hand turned bowl starring a grain thought to have gone extinct during the Aztec Empire. Instead I am the one stealthily plopping down store bought cookies, carefully arranged on a Happy Birthday paper plate, and hoping that no one notices.

Next came the onslaught of award and "Movin' On" ceremonies. There were awards for everything at the middle school level: National Spanish Exam, American Legion, and Science Olympiad, just to name a few. And you'd think since the city of Madison Spelling Bee Champ was among those honored at the ceremony that someone might have tried a little harder to at least spell "moving" correctly. I have to say, though, I was very impressed by the two boys who won the perfect attendance award. Not just perfect attendance in 8th grade, but every day, for all three years. If it's true, as Woody Allen once said, that "80% of success is showing up," I think these guys can pretty much write their tickets.

And then there were the countless year-end field trips. One day they hit the zoo, the next day Governor Dodge State Park, and then off to the Geology Museum and Union South. I think I am mostly just envious; I want to go somewhere fun, too. My daughter came home from last Friday's excursion with a very cute Wisconsin Historical Society pennant. I'm still waiting for my "My Kid Went to Circus World and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt" in a size medium. There has to be something in this for the parents who dutifully signed all the permission slips.

But as crazed as the final weeks of school have been, I don't want to end on a rant. This was a unique year"the one in which I learned to appreciate teachers even more. Wisconsin educators have had it rough since February, and the ones my kids work with have remained committed inspirations. From teaching my eldest that both Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" AND old episodes of The Twilight Zone are great examples of irony, to allowing my 11-year-old to substitute an impassioned "Thriller" lip synch for a more traditional poetry recitation, to giving my daughter the confidence to tackle the "Hamster" spelling list (which is, evidentially, MUCH harder than the "Gerbil" list) it's truly been a year to remember.

And it isn't just the regular classroom teachers who have made this year so special. It's the crossing guard who knows all the kids' names when they walk by her in the morning. It's the librarian who does double-duty as the resident tech master. And I am pretty sure my daughter can tell you the difference between a Modigliani, a Picasso and a Klee. I don't think she learned it from iCarly's artist brother. Or from me.

So before I run off to what I hope is the very last potluck, I want to take this chance to say a public thank-you to some of my very favorite public employees. It's the very least they deserve. I hope that someday, they'll get the very most.

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